Exploring Violence and Wellbeing in the Context of the Student Movement
The Humanities Institute and the Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) within the College of Humanities, in partnership with the University of Venda and Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), recently hosted the opening of the exhibition – Aftermath: Violence and Wellbeing in the Context of the Student Movement and book launch - #FeesMustFall and its Aftermath: Violence, Wellbeing, and the South African Student Movement, at the Howard College Theatre.
The exhibition is a collection of 34 images taken by student leaders as a reflection and representation of their experiences of violence during the #FeesMustFall student movement, and their search for wellbeing after these experiences. Curated by Carl Collison, the exhibition comprises nine themes: protest and violence, oppressive spaces, fear, escape, defying patriarchy, safe spaces, wellbeing, unity and trauma.
The images were selected and curated from more than 100 images that were produced as part of a photovoice research project by the HSRC in 2019/20. The project was funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Andrew W Mellon Foundation. Student participants were selected from the University of the Western Cape (UWC), University of Venda (UNIVEN), University of the Free State (UFS), University of Fort Hare (UFH) and the Durban University of Technology (DUT).
HSRC Research Director, Dr Thierry Luescher said the photovoice methodology is ‘an action research method that uses photos taken by the student participants to help them articulate difficult experiences such as violence and how they have regained a sense of wellbeing.’
The aim of this exhibition is to raise awareness about the levels of violence on university campuses and the impact this has on student wellbeing. The student leaders and activists, whose reflections are represented in these pictures and accompanying captions, have expressed the hope that by sharing their photos and stories, awareness would be created in the public, government and among Higher Education policymakers and university leaders.
Co-Principal Investigator from the University of Venda, Dr Keamogetse Morwe said ‘after the #FeesMustFall protests, the ongoing mental health challenges of former student activists and students in general became prevalent.’
The students of the project hope this awareness will ensure that student grievances are taken seriously without the need for protesting, and that student counselling services are expanded to better support students who struggle with mental health issues.
The book: #FeesMustFall and its Aftermath: Violence, Wellbeing, and the South African Student Movement was also launched at the event. The book showcases the experiences of violence and well-being of #FeesMustFall student activists from a range of South African universities, and tells their experiences through over 100 photos and related narratives that contextualise the photos and explain their meaning and significance.
Professor Saleem Badat of UKZN’s Humanities Institute said, ‘It is an exceptional book by socially committed scholars that is original, conceptually innovative and creatively narrated and presented. It is a welcome contribution to efforts to document and understand the 2015-2016 national student protests associated with #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall, #EndOutsourcing and other movements.’
Badat added, ‘These universities were selected deliberately to highlight the experiences of students at universities that, unlike the universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand, were not in the public limelight in 2015/16 but whose experiences could be more representative of the sector as a whole.’
Professor Relebohile Moletsane, JL Dube Chair in Rural Education at UKZN added, ‘In a period where students and student activists have been labelled as violent and not really focused on their studies, this book is not only important, it is also timely. It contributes to deepening our understanding of who our students are and what has shaped and continues to shape their experiences and outcomes in our institutions.’
Reflecting on the book, Ms Innocentia Alexander, a PhD candidate in the School of Education said, ‘It exposes the high levels of violence on university campuses and the impact it has on student wellbeing with calls for a more responsive Higher Education policy and leadership. The book serves as a catalyst for healing by the participants and speaks to decolonising university spaces.’
As part of the travelling exhibition, a colloquium was hosted by Badat on Student Politics and Higher Education Transformation in the Aftermath of #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall that featured 35 participants including the authors of the book, scholars and student leaders. A workshop was also hosted by Luescher on Restoring Wellbeing after Student Protests: Lessons from #FeesMustFall.
Words: Melissa Mungroo
Photographs: Sethu Dlamini